We are often asked what is the difference between Gorgonzola Piccante and Gorgonzola Dolce. They are similar, and yet very different, and they share a common part of their name: Gorgonzola DOP Piccante and Gorgonzola DOP Dolce. In order for cheese to be called Gorgonzola, it must be awarded the DOP, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin). If you find a cheese labeled Gorgonzola that doesn’t have the DOP stamp, it’s not really Gorgonzola, so always only buy the DOP labeled cheeses. They are all produced in the DOP designated regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, and milk used in the production of the cheese can only come from the same region.There is also a third type, if you are fortunate to live in the Lombardy region, and are close to a producer, the locals refer to it as spoon Gorgonzola or Gorgonzola creme, it has a very short, 10 day lifespan, and is not exported. It is super creamy, almost like a triple cream, but still a single cream -45-49% butterfat, that is served out of the wheel via a spoon. It is a pleasure to get to enjoy this treat. Gorgonzola Dolce and Piccante are very different, despite being made from the same milk source and in the same dairies.
So what is Gorgonzola DOP Piccante?
It is sometimes referred to as mountain Gorgonzola or Natural/Traditional Gorgonzola. It is an aged firm wheel, and we like the ones aged over 250 days, as they develop more flavor than the younger version. We buy exclusively Gorgonzola DOP from the maker Arioli, who have been making cheese since 1811, Gianluca Arioli is the 6th generation cheesemaker, their caseificio, dairy and cheese plant, is about 25 miles outside of Milan. Their plant is state-of-the art, incredibly clean and organized. The cheese is still made in traditional small batches, 8-9 wheels per vat, hand dipped, each wheel is pierced one at a time, and cared for and turned by hand as its aging process starts. They are held at the dairy for approximately 180 days and then sent to Guffanti, our Italian cheese exporter, and held in their underground caves till they are at least 255 days old. Each wheel is then hand chosen, wrapped and sent to us. When we get the cheeses, they are full of peppery blue flavor and the extra aging allows the cheese to ripen as well as allow the blue to develop to a robust level. The extra cave aging in high humidity a Guffanti allows flavor development not found in younger cheeses.
Piccante is the most produced Gorgonzola and the version most people are familiar with. It has a dense texture, firm but not dry, fragrant, but not off-putting. It is great on a cheese board or as an ingredient in recipes. It is great in salads, with pasta in a cream sauce, and on a pizza. Gorgonzola Piccante pairs great with most Pinot Noir wines or the classic pairing of Barolo wine.
There are many great ways to serve Gorgonzola DOP Piccante including with walnuts and honey on a cheese board, or it can be crumbled on top of a salad. Or try it on pizza with potatoes and caramelized onions. A nice wedge of Piccante is right at home on a combined cured meat board with other cheeses as it can stand up to the strong flavors without overpowering the other selections.
What defines Gorgonzola DOP Dolce?
It is not just a younger and softer version of the Piccante version. It has the same geographical requirements as Piccante, the same milk sourcing definition, but uses different cultures and starters. At Arioli it is made with a different recipe and even made in a different make-room. It is made in the same forms and in the same traditional hand made manner but it is a very different cheese. It is aged for only 88 days until it is released from the maker to the exporter, who sells it quickly. It is even aged in a separate aging room than the piccante so there is no cross contamination of mold types. This short aging allows the blueing to be a bit more mild than the piccante version. It is a much softer cheese and is very spreadable and can be whipped to be used in savory desserts. The Dolce version is a perfect blue cheese for people who say they are not fond of strong blue cheese. It is a little milder in taste, but still has all the Gorgonzola flavor and distinct blueing. The flavor profile is a bit less intense than Picante but with the same flavors that are inherent in Gorgonzola in general. I was fortunate to get to try the Dolce with dark chocolate chunk breadsticks, it was an unexpected treat. Try it with crispy, less sweet white wines or lighter red wines.
Gorgonzola DOP Dolce is as great to cook with as it is to eat as a table cheese. I had it served in a creamy sauce with pasta and fresh herbs, it was delicious. In Milan it was served whipped on top of delicate risotto. North of Milan, I found it in a bakery where they used it as a savory filling in a pastry, it was mixed with pastry cream and had only a mild, but distinctive flavor.
Gorgonzola DOP, whether Picante or Dolce, are great blue cheeses that can be enjoyed in many ways. You must first always check to make sure it is authentic DOP produced. If you want a lighter cheese, one more approachable by many people, go with the Dolce version. If you enjoy more full flavored blues, then Picante is the cheese for you. Both are delicious and can be enjoyed in many different ways.